I’ve attended good sales training in the past. And I’ve attended sales training that was pretty much worthless. Interestingly, as a sales manager and executive, I’ve sent few salespeople to training. The reason isn’t that I don’t value training, it’s that I’m overall disappointed with available training programs.

Without bashing any particular program, here is my view on the ideal characteristics of a sales training program salespeople need to consistently meet and exceed quota:

Outcome-based

Sales training has no inherent value — no one wants to own it. We don’t want a sales training program that teaches salespeople how to mange a conversation, we want results such as shorter sales cycles, increased close ratios, and higher transaction values. Associated outcomes we desire are predictable sales forecasts, less dependency on discounts, and elimination of the hockey stick.

Salespeople need sales training that’s based on the outcomes we wish to achieve as a result of having been trained — skills taught in context as a means to achieve something greater.

Contextual

Generic sales training can be effective, but not nearly as effective as training based on a particular market, target audience, and product and service portfolio. Contextual training takes into considerations norms, biases, competitive landscape, regulatory, and structure of a particular market and client profile.

Salespeople need skills they can apply to their particular market, this context creates lasting returns on the training investment and compliments conversational communication with prospective clients.

Conversational Communication

Selling is about communicating with people about the things you do for them, not the things you do — conversations based on the prospect’s worldview of challenges and opportunities they face, not product and service features and functionality you sell.

These conversations require contextual relevance that can’t be learned in generic sales process training.

Sales Process Orientation

Compartmental training can be effective, but outcome-based training is best achieved when addressed in connected blocks such as qualifying, advancing, and closing a sale. Each block builds on the other and each works together to achieve a desired outcome — shortened sales cycle, improved close ratio, etc.

Salespeople need training rooted in their sales cycle, developing skills to advance a sales opportunity efficiently from one major stage (block) to another. Compartmental training, such as objection handling, managing meetings, etc. is valuable, but have to be tied to real-world sales processes and outcomes to be maximally effective.

Think of soccer footskills taught without a tie to tactics and system of play. Without tactics and system of play, footskills are nearly worthless as a tool to win a game.

Principle-based

Sales environments are dynamic. As such, salespeople need to understand the big picture of what they’re trying to accomplish and be well versed in skills and tactics that can be applied and adapted as a particular environment develops. Principles salespeople can fall back on and use to refocus conversations are far more valuable and effective than skills developed without context and desired outcomes.

Salespeople need to think on their feet and as such need training they can apply in dynamic situations.

Follow-on Support

Real learning takes place outside the classroom, when you’re working to implement the things you’ve been taught. Talking with real prospects and clients in real opportunities, with real dollars being spent is when the real need for help arises.

Salespeople need support after training to reinforce the things they’ve learned — developing new skills in actual sales opportunities. Moving from the classroom to real-world experience is critical to developing skills and realizing lasting results.

Your Turn

Above is my take on characteristics of the ideal sales training program — sales training built to give lasting results valued by those who pay for and attend training.

What would you add to my list? Is there anythign I didn’t make clear — anythign I could clarify to better share my ideas?

Leave your thoughts in comments below.

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